Children take over 30-year fight for Torbay running track
A CAMPAIGNING group of children has taken on a 30-year battle to get Torbay its first proper running track.
And within a few months, schoolgirl runner Laura-Jo Williams and her pals have got the backing of politicians and some the country's top athletes.
Laura-Jo, a 13-year-old Torquay Girls' Grammar School pupil and member of Torbay Athletics Club, is campaigning for the new running track.
The Chelston schoolgirl began the campaign as part of a school project. But after carrying out a survey outside Torquay Town Hall, she is now determined to carry on the fight.
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Laura-Jo said: "The mayor is being supportive and seems very keen to do something .
"Apparently the campaign to get a new running track at Torquay has been going on for about 30 years.
"It's been adults before but I think having children lead the process with the adults helping us will hopefully work better."
She explained the current athletic club track is just a field marked out with paint.
"Sometimes the training is cancelled because the grass field is just too dangerous because it is slippery," she said.
"It's a grass field with a 400 metre track just drawn-out with paint. It's got little pot holes.
"We did a 1,000-metre race in training. I fell over twice and another boy fell over three times.
"We are also sent on the roads and we get injuries like shin splints and stuff because of the impact of the concrete.
"One of the boys was off for five weeks because of injury. It is especially bad for growing people to be running on concrete."
Laura-Jo, who has run cross country for Devon, added: "I've been going since I was eight but I've really, really got into it competitively now.
"When I was younger it didn't matter that we don't have a track, but now it's becoming apparent that the other clubs with a track do so much better.
"Our club has been trying for ages and we have not got anywhere.
"I've contemplated moving to Exeter Club but I feel bad.
"At school for our citizenship GCSE we had to be an advocate for something we feel strongly about. I chose this and now the whole club has got involved.
"We are making posters and we have done a survey."
She carried out the town hall survey with Brooke Coldwell, Owen Coldwell, Alfie Williams, Verity Woods and Freya Woods.
"We asked 305 people four questions and I think everybody said they would support my campaign.
"One of the questions we asked was ' Where is your nearest running track?' Nobody knew that it was in Exeter."
Laura-Jo's campaign has been endorsed by MP Adrian Saunders, mayor Gordon Oliver and Olympic chief Lord Seb Coe.
Sally Gunnell, gold medalist 400-metre hurdler in the 1992 Olympics, said: "'I just believe a track gives so many children so many opportunities, athletics, whatever shape, whatever size, or ability."
Cllr Robert Excell said: "We definitely should have a proper training track for the Bay.
"I will do anything within my endeavour to encourage them. I told them they need a business case. We've got to make it sustainable and I've given them ideas about how to encourage other sports clubs.
"They have done a brilliant job and they are right to bring it to our attention.
"I was in Exeter recently for the school games and they have an excellent facility there.
"Finding a place to put it is another thing. Where it is at Torre Valley north, it is slightly small. Clennon Valley might be the ideal opportunity."